Yes, Israel is a racist state

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  July 20, 2023

Here are the reasons why Pramila Jayapal was right to say Israel is a racist state.

Political turmoil has recently engulfed the U.S. Congress. Last weekend, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal called Israel a “racist state.” Even though she felt compelled to walk the statement back, the House of Representatives hurried to pass a reactionary resolution stating that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state.” That resolution passed almost unanimously, by 412 to 9. And even Jayapal voted for it.

So while it remains verboten to state the obvious in Washington D.C., let me state it clearly: Yes, Israel is a racist state.

The resolution that was hurriedly passed flies in the face of the conclusion of the whole human rights community, which has documented how Israel practices apartheid. The apartheid charge is not based on a single issue – it goes back to the country’s founding. As Amnesty International notes prominently in its report

“In the course of establishing Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages, in what amounted to ethnic cleansing. Since then, successive governments have designed laws and policies to ensure the continued fragmentation of the Palestinian population. Palestinians are confined to enclaves in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the refugee communities, where they are subject to different legal and administrative regimes. This has had the effect of undermining family, social and political ties between Palestinian communities and suppressing sustained dissent against the apartheid system; it also helps to maximise Jewish Israeli control over land and maintain a Jewish demographic majority.” 

As the excerpt says, the racism of the Israeli state is enshrined in its rule of law. Israel has over 60 laws discriminating against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, which is to say nothing of the fact that Jews from anywhere in the world can get automatic Israeli citizenship simply on the basis of their religion, while Palestinians are legally barred from returning to their homes from which they were ethnically cleansed. In 2018 Israel codified this racist practice of extending exclusive and superior rights based on ethnicity with the quasi-constitutional ‘Nation-State’ law, which says that Jews have an “exclusive right to national self-determination” in Israel. What does this mean in practice? When Israeli celebrity Rotem Sela suggested on social media that Israel was the “state of all its citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu corrected her, stating: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens… according to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and its alone.”

What more do the representatives in Washington need to hear?

The vote came just in time for Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress, where he, of course, never mentioned apartheid and spoke only of the unbreakable bonds and shared values. 

Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who was one of the very few progressive Democrats who boycotted Herzog’s speech, did so by pointing straight to apartheid. In her tweet announcing it Monday night, she attached a beautiful and simple photo of her in front of the Congress building with a sign saying “BOYCOTT APARTHEID”. In her text, she wrote: 

“In solidarity with the Palestinian people and all those who have been harmed by Israel’s apartheid government, I will be boycotting President Herzog’s joint address to Congress. I urge all Members of Congress who stand for human rights for all to join me. #BoycottApartheid”  

Thus it becomes clear that the vote in Congress was an attempt to push back against the entire body of work that human rights organizations have collected documenting Israel’s apartheid system. This scrutiny recently includes not only Palestinian human rights organizations like Al-Haq and Al-Mezan, who were the first to document Israeli apartheid, but also Israel’s B’Tselem and mainstream human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who have all joined in consensus on this in the past couple of years. As B’Tselem says in no uncertain terms, it is a singular “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: THIS IS APARTHEID”.  

These findings are impossible to ignore and have begun to resonate among Americans who can hear the message beyond the outrageous cacophony of establishment indignance over them. A 2021 survey of American Jews found that 25% see Israel as an Apartheid state. And for those under 40, the percentage grew to 38%. That is just among Jews, and those are generally people who often pay closer attention to what is happening in Israel than the wider population. 

It is clear there is a generational shift taking place, and Herzog referred to this younger generation in passing during his speech, but it’s worth noticing his words:

“Ultimately, Israel and the United States stand — and indeed, have always stood for the same values. Our two nations are both diverse, life- affirming societies that stand for liberty, equality, and freedom. At our core, both our peoples seek to repair the cracks in our world. Having said this, I am well aware that our world is changing. A new generation of Israelis and Americans are assuming leadership roles. A generation that was not privy to the hardship of Israel’s formative years. A generation that is less engaged in the roots that connect our peoples. A generation that, perhaps, takes for granted the U.S.-Israel relationship. Yet, at this moment I choose optimism. Because to me it is clear that the shift in generations does not reflect changing values. Nor does it indicate changes in our interests. When the United States is strong, Israel is stronger. And when Israel is strong, the United States is more secure.”

The Israel lobby is trying very hard to control and stem this movement, but its knee-jerk responses, like that of the ridiculous recent House resolution, only serve to show their desperation.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician,connductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark